Recent Posts by Jean-Marc Pascal

In Praise of the European Spirit

Europe is going through one of the recurrent identity crises which have punctuated its long history. Some journalists and pundits contemptuously reject the very idea of a ‘European Civilisation’ and in a strange exercise of self-hatred, take full personal responsibility when the ghosts of slavery and colonisation are evoked. Yet, no other continent is prepared to face its worst demons and question its cultural and intellectual legacy in a period defined by confusion and uncertainty. This ability to question our ...

Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Popular Sovereignty

Public and social media are inundated with vitriolic declarations calling for the toppling of political institutions and their replacement by the infallible diktats of the so-called ‘sovereignty of the people’. Rousseau was the first modern theorist of this complex and ambiguous notion, analysed and developed in his seminal essay, The Social Contract, published in 1762. The proud ‘citizen of the City of Geneva’, lay down the foundations of a republican form of government resting on the principle of the sovereignty ...

Hegel on Freedom

Hegel’s conception of freedom is central to his Introduction to the Philosophy of History and his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) in which it is described as one of its most immediately perceived properties. Yet, it is only through philosophy as speculative knowledge that freedom can fulfil itself. For Hegel, universal history is the slow progress of its understanding and advent through three stages: the earliest one is to be found in Antiquity and is epitomised by the autocratic power of ...

The Search for Authenticity

The term ‘authentic’ derives from the Greek ‘autos’ or self and ‘hentes’, originally meaning ‘worker’ and by extension ‘agent’. The notion of authenticity is alien to ancient philosophers for whom only the free man as opposed to slaves, women and children, is capable of a full rational judgement, dictated by a code of honour or informed by moral principles such as the ones developed by Aristotle in his ‘Ethics’. Augustine introduced a spiritual dimension to the self which emphasised the ...

Artificial Intelligence and Philosophy

Back in 1936, the English mathematician, Alan Turing, imagined a theoretical contraption capable of replicating thought processes. The ‘Turing machine’ proved that instances of intelligent cognition could be produced outside a human brain. Artificial intelligence was born and after the war, Turing went on to work on the first stored-program computer, at the University of Manchester. In 1950, in an article published in the philosophy journal Mind, he wrote: ‘I believe that at the end of the century, the use ...

Is Philosophy under Siege?

Is Philosophy the main victim of the latest paradigm of our time, namely, the systematic undermining and denigration of the concept of truth, so central to any philosophical project? This widespread eroding of critical rational thinking is threatening the very nature of philosophy as well as its existing role in our liberal democracies. Philosophy seems to be under siege from many quarters, all eager to proclaim the demise of a so-called intellectual ‘élite', portrayed as the dangerous guardians of obsolete ...

How Postmodernism Undermined our Perception and Knowledge of Truth

The pursuit of truth has been the major preoccupation of philosophers from Thales’ search for the most elementary component of the universe or Heraclitus’ claim that everything is in constant flow down to Descartes’ attempt to found a new science of nature on purely rational principles and Kant’s systematic enquiry into the universal principles of metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. Generation upon generation of thinkers endeavoured to propose new systems of thought, buttressed by superseding concepts and models. For the twentieth-century ...

My Top Philosophy Books of 2018

OK, I confess: my favourite philosophy book of 2018 was actually published in 2016 and it is American Philosophy: A Love Story, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In his remarkably riveting enquiry into the ‘zeitgeist’ of early twentieth-century American academe, John Kaag recreates the confident and life-affirming philosophy of William Ernest Hocking, a neglected thinker overshadowed by his mentor Josiah Royce and by William James whose Principles of Psychology prompted Hocking to study philosophy at Harvard. Kaag mixes erudition and ...

K.A Appiah and the Search for Contemporary Identity

Born in 1954 of British and Ghanaian descent, Kwame Anthony Appiah was originally interested in problems of semantics and theories of meaning before turning his attention to the impact of a more and more cosmopolitan world on perceptions of identity. He first considered the relation of personal and group identity to the realm of morals in The Ethics of Identity, published in 2005. To what extent are our deepest personal values attached to our inescapable cultural identity? Nineteenth-century liberalism provided a ...

Isaiah Berlin and the Vexing Issue of Liberty

When Isaiah Berlin died in 1997, his conceptions of liberty and value pluralism were to be read within the dying tradition of totalitarian politics, as implemented by Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. For the Russian-born thinker whose family escaped to England in 1921, Rousseau, Hegel and Marx were directly responsible for a warped interpretation of freedom enabling the state to force its citizens to conform to its own needs and ethereal collective aspirations.  His answer was a more realistic solution that ...

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